City of Joburg rolls out solar-powered WiFi zones

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 15 Sept 2020

The City of Johannesburg (COJ) has kicked-off connecting its citizens to the Internet by resuming rollout of its free WiFi programme.

The move forms part of the COJ’s recently announced R40 million budget commitment for the 2020/21 financial year to expand access to free WiFi across the city.

The city says this comes after the free WiFi rollout project took a backseat during the past four years.

By rolling out free public WiFi access, the COJ hopes to improve municipal services and drive economic growth, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdown, both of which have fostered a “new digital normal” for socialising, conducting business, as well as working and studying.

The new normal has prompted the city to revisit the rollout of free WiFi as a priority on an equal footing with other essential services such as the provision of water and electricity, explains Jolidee Matongo, the MMC of finance. “Especially if we are to revive our local economy and socio-economic development post the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Unlike previously when users were only allocated 300MB of data per day, the city says its WiFi hotspots will now offer each single device 500MB, to allow users to surf and download at a speed of 5MBps.

In addition, all of the 84 active free WiFi hotspots run on solar power and are manned by the city’s broadband network entity, the Metropolitan Trading Company, it reveals.

“With over 1 000km of fibre-optic wire laid out across all quadrants of Johannesburg, the city has connected 84 free WiFi hotspots between Region A and G in a bid to optimise the use of technology to improve the general quality of life of its residents.”

Through the provision of free WiFi in communities across Johannesburg – and effectively bridging the digital divide – the COJ is looking to transform the metropolitan into a smart city. It is also of the view that the rollout of free Internet connectivity will enable Johannesburg to compete comparatively with international peers from across the globe and to stay ahead of the curve on the African continent.

“The city has demonstrated its commitment to assist residents who have limited access to the Internet – a barrier to economic opportunities – by allocating R40 million from the 2020/21 budget to the rollout of free WiFi hotspots to even hostels, flats, student villages and old age homes,” Matongo explains. “This is done to give residents free access to municipal services, economic opportunities and academic materials though online platforms.”

According to Matongo, regular daily health checks are conducted on the hotspots to ensure efficient service and many of them are in areas with surveillance cameras to monitor criminal activity.

“The hotspots that are already live across the city are being accessed by up to 6 000 devices, and future enhancements include the implementation of analytics, which will ensure insightful reporting on the usage of the hotspots.”